1. Wycliffe.—The New Testament was translated by Wycliffe himself. The Old Testament was undertaken by Nicholas de Hereford, but was interrupted, and ends abruptly (following so far the order of the Vulgate) in the middle of Baruch. The version was based entirely upon the Vulgate. The following characteristics may be noticed as distinguishing this version: (1) The general homeliness of its style. (2) The substitution, in many cases, of English equivalents for quasi-technical words. (3) The extreme literalness with which in some instances, even at the cost of being unintelligible, the Vulgate text is followed, as in 2 Cor. 1:17-19.
2. Tyndal.—The work of Wycliffe stands by itself. Whatever power it exercised in preparing the way for the Reformation of the sixteenth century, it had no perceptible influence on later translations. With Tyndal we enter on a continuous succession. He is the patriarch, in no remote ancestry, of the Authorized Version. More than Cranmer or Ridley he is the true hero of the English Reformation. “Ere many years,” he said at the age of thirty-six (a.d. 1520), he would cause “a boy that driveth the plough” to know more of Scripture than the great body of the clergy then knew. He prepared himself for the work by long years of labor in Greek and Hebrew. First the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark were published tentatively. In 1525 the whole of the New Testament was printed in quarto at Cologne, and in small octavo at Worms. In England it was received with denunciations. Tonstal, bishop of London, preaching at Paul’s Cross, asserted that there were at least two thousand errors in it, and ordered all copies of it to be bought up and burnt. An act of Parliament (35 Hen. VIII cap. 1) forbade the use of all copies of Tyndal’s “false translation.” The treatment which it received from professed friends was hardly less annoying. In the mean time the work went on. Editions were printed one after another. The last appeared in 1535, just before his death. To Tyndal belongs the honor of having given the first example of a translation based on true principles, and the excellence of later versions has been almost in exact proportion as they followed his. All the exquisite grace and simplicity which have endeared the Authorized Version to men of the most opposite tempers and contrasted opinions is due mainly to his clear-sighted truthfulness.
3. Coverdale.—A complete translation of the Bible, different from Tyndal’s, bearing the name of Miles Coverdale, printed probably at Zurich, appeared in 1535. The undertaking itself, and the choice of Coverdale as the translator, were probably due to Cromwell. He was content to make the translation at second hand “out of the Douche (Luther’s German Version) and the Latine.” Fresh editions of his Bible were published, keeping their ground in spite of rivals, in 1537, 1539, 1550, 1553. He was called in at a still later period to assist in the Geneva Version.
4. Matthew.—In the year 1537, a large folio Bible appeared as edited and dedicated to the king by Thomas Matthew. No one of that name appears at all prominently in the religious history of Henry VIII, and this suggests the inference that the name was adopted to conceal the real translator. The tradition which connects this Matthew with John Rogers, the proto-martyr of the Marian persecution, is all but undisputed. Matthew’s Bible reproduces Tyndal’s work, in the New Testament entirely, in the Old Testament as far as 2 Chron., the rest being taken with occasional modifications from Coverdale. A copy was ordered, by royal proclamation, to be set up in every church, the cost being divided between the clergy and the parishioners. This was, therefore, the first Authorized Version.
5. Taverner (1539).—The boldness of the pseudo-Matthew had frightened the ecclesiastical world from its propriety. Coverdale’s version was, however, too inaccurate to keep its ground. It was necessary to find another editor, and the printers applied to Richard Taverner. But little is known of his life. The fact that, though a layman, he had been chosen as one of the canons of the Cardinal’s College at Oxford indicates a reputation for scholarship, and this is confirmed by the character of his translation. In most respects this may be described as an expurgated edition of Matthew’s.
6. Cranmer.—In the same year as Taverner’s, and coming from the same press, appeared an English Bible, in a more stately folio, with a preface containing the initials T. C., which implied the archbishop’s sanction. Cranmer’s version presented, as might be expected, many points of interest. The prologue gave a more complete ideal of what a translation ought to be than had as yet been seen. Words not in the original were to be printed in a different type. It was reprinted again and again, and was the Authorized Version of the English Church till 1568—the interval of Mary’s reign excepted. From it, accordingly, were taken most, if not all, the portions of Scripture in the Prayerbooks of 1549 and 1552. The Psalms as a whole, the quotations from Scripture in the Homilies, the sentences in the Communion Services, and some phrases elsewhere, still preserve the remembrance of it.
7. Geneva.—The exiles who fled to Geneva in the reign of Mary entered on the work of translation with more vigor than ever. The Genevan refugees—among them Whittingham, Goodman, Pullain, Sampson, and Coverdale himself—labored “for two years or more, day and night.” Their translation of the New Testament was “diligently revised by the most approved Greek examples.” The New Testament, translated by Whittingham, was printed in 1557, and the whole Bible in 1560. Whatever may have been its faults, the Geneva Bible, commonly called the Breeches Bible from its rendering of Gen. 3:7, was unquestionably, for sixty years, the most popular of all versions. Not less than eighty editions, some of the whole Bible, were printed between 1558 and 1611. It kept its ground for some time even against the Authorized Version, and gave way, as it were, slowly and under protest. It was the version specially adopted by the great Puritan party through the whole reign of Elizabeth and far into that of James. As might be expected, it was based on Tyndal’s version. It presents, in a calendar prefixed to the Bible, something like a declaration of war against the stablished order of the Church’s lessons commemorating Scripture facts and the deaths of the great reformers, but ignoring saints’ days altogether. It was the first English Bible which entirely omitted the Apocrypha. The notes were characteristically Swiss, not only in their theology, but in their politics.
8. The Bishops’ Bible.—The facts just stated will account for the wish of Archbishop Parker to bring out another version, which might establish its claims against that of Geneva. Great preparations were made. Eight bishops, together with some deans and professors, brought out the fruit of their labors in a magnificent folio (1568 and 1572). It was avowedly based on Cranmer’s; but of all the English versions it had probably the least success. It did not command the respect of scholars, and its size and cost were far from meeting the wants of the people.
9. Rheims and Douay.—The successive changes in the Protestant versions of the Scriptures were, as might be expected, matter of triumph to the controversialists of the Latin Church. Some saw in it an argument against any translation of Scripture into the spoken language of the people. Others pointed derisively to the want of unity which these changes displayed. There were some, however, who took the line which Sir T. More and Gardiner had taken under Henry VIII. They did not object to the principle of an English translation. They only charged all the versions hitherto made with being false, corrupt, heretical. To this there was the ready retort that they had done nothing; that their bishops in the reign of Henry had promised, but had not performed. It was felt to be necessary that they should take some steps which might enable them to turn the edge of this reproach. The English Catholic refugees who were settled at Rheims undertook a new English version. The New Testament was published at Rheims in 1582, and professed to be based on “the authentic text of the Vulgate.” Notes were added, as strongly dogmatic as those of the Geneva Bible, and often keenly controversial. The work of translation was completed somewhat later by the publication of the Old Testament at Douay in 1609.
10. Authorized Version.—The position of the English Church in relation to the versions in use at the commencement of the reign of James was hardly satisfactory. The Bishops’ Bible was sanctioned by authority. That of Geneva had the strongest hold on the affections of the people. Scholars, Hebrew scholars in particular, found grave fault with both. Among the demands of the Puritan representatives at the Hampton Court Conference in 1604 was one for a new, or at least a revised, translation. The work of organizing and superintending the arrangements for a new translation was one specially congenial to James, and accordingly in 1606 the task was commenced. It was intrusted to 54 scholars. The following were the instructions given to the translators: (1) The Bishops’ Bible was to be followed, and as little altered as the original would permit. (2) The names of prophets and others were to be retained, as nearly as may be, as they are vulgarly used. (3) The old ecclesiastical words to be kept. (4) When any word hath divers significations, that to be kept which hath been most commonly used by the most eminent fathers, being agreeable to the propriety of the place and the analogy of faith. (5) The division of the chapters to be altered either not at all or as little as possible. (6) No marginal notes to be affixed but only for the explanation of Hebrew and Greek words. (7) Such quotations of places to be marginally set down as may serve for fit reference of one Scripture to another. (8 and 9) State plan of translation. Each company of translators is to take its own books; each person to bring his own corrections. The company to discuss them, and having finished their work, to send it on to another company, and so on. (10) Provides for differences of opinion between two companies by referring them to a general meeting. (11) Gives power, in cases of difficulty, to consult any scholars. (12) Invites suggestions from any quarter. (13) Names the directors of the work: Andrews, dean of Westminster; Barlow, dean of Chester; and the regius professors of Hebrew and Greek at both universities. (14) Names translations to be followed when they agree more with the original than the Bishops’ Bible, sc. Tyndal’s, Coverdale’s, Matthew’s, Whitechurch’s (Cranmer’s), and Geneva. (15) Authorizes universities to appoint three or four overseers of the work. For three years the work went on, the separate companies comparing notes as directed. When the work drew toward its completion, it was necessary to place it under the care of a select few. Two from each of the three groups were accordingly selected, and the six met in London to superintend the publication. The final correction, and the task of writing the arguments of the several books, was given to Bilson, bishop of Winchester, and Dr. Miles Smith, the latter of whom also wrote the dedication and preface. The version thus published did not at once supersede the versions already in possession. The fact that five editions were published in three years shows that there was a good demand. But the Bishops’ Bible probably remained in many churches, and the popularity of the Geneva Version is shown by not less than thirteen reprints, in whole or in part, between 1611 and 1617. It is not easy to ascertain the impression which the Authorized Version made at the time of its appearance. Selden says it is “the best of all translations, as giving the true sense of the original.” [For Revised Version (of 1881), see under Bible.]